Profiles of Courage: Uttarakhand tragedy spawns a new heroism

flood-story2As India has struggled to come to terms with the aftermath of the colossal floods in Uttarakhand, the many pilgrims stranded without water, food or electricity, are also facing a host of emotional and physical challenges. But what’s heartening is the rallying of India’s unsung angels of support; the horrific tragedy seems to have awakened latent heroism in many ordinary citizens.

Most people are overwhelmed when a disaster of this magnitude happens. People often wonder what they can do. How can one person’s contribution and efforts make a difference, if at all?

But, it takes a million drops to make up an ocean, as the saying goes, and individuals, driven by compassion and empathy, have stepped up. Among them is Ambarish Nag Biswas, a junior employee of a dairy firm who has been working for many days now gathering information for families of missing persons in disaster-ravaged Uttrakhand. From Kolkata, Biswas gathers data and radios them to the northern hilly state, which is home to stunningly picturesque places. “I relay the messages with the names of missing persons to our radio operator stationed in Dehradun and Mussourie. They are forwarding the messages to the army and authorities,” says Biswas.

The ‘men in olive green’ have always made supreme sacrifices in the line of duty but the sense of service and courage prompted two officers, currently posted in Jammu and Kashmir, to go beyond that call to help people stranded in the flood-hit Uttarakhand.

Major Mahesh Karki and Capt. Amit Kumar, both residents of Uttarakhand, were on leave when the tragedy struck the state.

Karki, who belongs to the Gorkha Rifles, was on leave in his native state when the floods hit on June 15. He was driving from Dehradun to Badrinath with his family when they got caught in heavy rains at Karnaprayag. After telling his family to wait for him, the young officer braved the ravaged stretch and drove his SUV to fetch stranded people.

“I just could not hold myself back,” Karki was quoted as saying. The sense of serving the nation propelled him.

Kumar also left for Kedarnath to save lives, provide comfort and more importantly, extended moral support to those in need. On completion of the rescue mission at Kedarnath, he flew to Gaurikund where he is still working to save lives. “I am a soldier working in Kashmir. This act of mine is dedicated to Uttarakhand on behalf of Kashmir,” the officer said over the phone.

For scores of victims, Commandment Nitya Nand Gupta came as a saviour. As head of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), Gupta saved many lives with his team and worked round the clock in a hostile, rough terrain for nine non-stop days before his helicopter crashed and he, with his team, lost his life. He will be remembered for evacuating many thousands of pilgrims.

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Indian Air Force and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), have been risking lives and working against all odds to save the flood victims. The Indian armed forces were the first to reach the state. They formed human walls as they helped thousands of people pass through the landslides and rough mountainous areas during their rescue operation. They helped people cross the river with ropes and even carried the weak on their shoulders.

There have been instances when the army security officials had to forego a day’s meals to feed flood victims. In such a tight situation, the locals stood by the army as they pooled in food materials and clothes from the nearby villages. In the course of their mission, the men and women in uniform have touched the lives of thousands of people.

If air force pilots have flown extra sorties to unite a lost child with his parents, women doctors of the army have trekked for hours on treacherous slopes to help pregnant women deliver babies.

Recalling a conversation with some pilgrims rescued from the Kedarnath area, a young army officer said, “They said if the army were a political party, it would never lose an election. It was their way of showing gratitude, though we were only doing our duty.”

Through the last few days, we’ve seen people brought together by empathy and brotherhood to help the thousands impacted by nature’s wrath. Volunteers from all over the country have donated money, clothes, blankets, and time.

Despite inclement weather, the rescue work is still on and with the focus now on rehabilitation, the new state of Uttrakhand will surely bounce back quickly.